Monday, May 16, 2011

Amara v CIGNA and Pensions

Still trying to catch up on accumulated newspapers while I was away, this evening I read through the May 7/8 Wall St. Journal. One article that particularly caught my eye was "When benefits bite back," by Ellen E. Schultz. It was alarming because the story involved workers who were told (sometimes in writing) that there pension benefits were one thing but once retired discovered that the benefits were less than promised. The case went to court, and all the way up to the Supreme Court. Basically the companies' stance was that even if the information provided to employees was misleading the company wasn't liable because the employees should go back to the official, wordy, source documents to check. Scary scary stuff.

The article said the SCOTUS decision was due in a few days and since that was a week ago I looked around to see if it was out. Yes. Amara v CIGNA was released on May 16. The Pension Rights Center has an overview; here's a brief excerpt:

The Court ruled that, if pension plan trustees deliberately mislead plan participants, and the participants can show that they were harmed by the mis-statements, a court has the power to ‘reform’ the terms of plan to conform to what the participants were promised in a summary plan description (SPD) and provide them with the benefits they thought they would receive.

The Court's 34 page slip opinion is available as a pdf at:, if you want to slog through the whole thing.

I hope my 401K is safe!

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